A hyena-eared dog howls at a dust devil as Old West-style wagons, modern campers and horse trailers arrive in a dirt lot at Fuji Park on Friday afternoon.
Davey "Doc" Wiser unloads shovels and assorted gear from the back of his horse trailer.
Resting in the bed of his pickup truck is an 1898 Concord buggy, the Cadillac of vintage coaches according to the 28-year veteran of the Highway 50 Association Wagon Train.
"She's a smooth ride," he drawls in a voice authentic enough to be more of a reckon.
Wiser says he comes on the ride every year for the full pioneer experience and "the love of being a cowboy."
Dressed in a black western hat and sporting a long, windswept mustache, Wiser catches up on lost time with a man called "Three-Fingered" Jack.
This is the 56th year the self-proclaimed "granddaddy of all wagon trains" is making the 100-mile trip from Carson City to Placerville, Calif.
Vi Tara, event coordinator is fresh from some shut-eye in her trailer. She's recovering from emergency gall bladder surgery and won't be able to ride her white mare "Star" at the front of the train this year. She's disappointed, but glad to be among friends. "Actually, more like family," she says.
Tara witnessed the very first Highway 50 Wagon Train as a child in 1949 and says it was love at first site. "But it took me until I became a grandmother to participate in it," she says.
"There's nothing like waking up in the morning and seeing the sun spilling out over the desert or riding up to Spooner Summit all day and finally coming upon Lake Tahoe.
"You can drive (the route) every day and not see what you see at 3 mph on a wagon," she says.
This year, Tara says the group will have official escorts in the front and the back of the train as they ride up along the roadway to the summit. She says the mix of wagons, horses and 18-wheelers can be a scary one.
This year may see fewer wagons than usual according to club secretary "Jerkline" Annie Radney. Longtime brakeman, "Cactus," fell off his roof and is still recovering, while stagecoach driver Red Wolverton just finished work on Steven Spielberg's mini-series "Into the West."
The Wagon Train leaves Carson City at 7 a.m. this morning and hopes to reach Placerville, Calif., on June 25, where the group plans a big celebration in the Wal-Mart parking lot.
Tara says this year's "Wagon Train Saturday Nite" party will include a barbecue and live country and western bands in an effort to raise money for The Children's Miracle Network.
The next morning, the wagons will disband.
"Then it's time to start planning for next year's ride," says Tara.
- Contact reporter Peter Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1215.